One of the best things about living in Upstate New York is the many soft serve ice cream stands that open up come the spring. A delicious reward for withstanding our awful winters. The history of ice cream, however, is surrounded by myths and marketing.
Did the ancient Romans really have ice cream? Probably not. They are known to have brought ice and snow down from the mountains for their drinks. But that is flavored ice, not ice cream. Slushee anyone?
Did Marco Polo really eat ice cream during his Silk Road travels, and bring that idea back to Italy in the 1300s? History.org makes the convincing argument that if he experienced ice cream in China, he certainly would have written about the novelty. But he did not. The website goes on to theorize that what really came out of China in those early days was the knowledge of how to freeze things using salt and ice – the endothermic effect. As the article says, “Ice alone only makes things cold.” You need the endothermic effect to get ingredients cold enough to actually freeze and make ice cream.
How about Thomas Jefferson? Did he introduce ice cream to America? He enjoyed it enough during his 1784 trip to France to jot down a recipe (2 bottles of good cream, 6 yolks of eggs, 1/ lb. sugar to be flavored with vanilla). How about Martha Washington? She didn’t invent it, but she did serve it at Mt. Vernon. Martha and George acquired a “cream machine for ice” in 1784, and built an ice house on the estate that year. Keep in mind, during those Colonial and early National years, sugar was expensive and only the wealthy could access ice year-round.
When the ice industry kicked into high gear in the mid-1850s, ice started to become more readily available. Sugar prices came down and inventors patented hand-cranked ice cream freezers. Delicious ice cream was coming for the masses.
It is no surprise that ice cream was popular locally. In the 1840s Charles Anderson was advertising his Ice Cream Saloon and Confectionary on Broadway in Albany. In the 1870’s, you could travel down to Coeymans and visit J. Wiggins’ Ice Cream Saloon on South Main Street. Wiggins promised to keep a choice selection of flavors constantly on hand. Strawberry and ice cream festivals were very common. One page of the June 21, 1893 Altamont Enterprise lists seven different ones happening including the ladies of the M.E. church in Clarksville whose literary entertainment included an ice cream social with “patriotic songs and appropriate speaking.” Nor did they limit their ice cream to summer time. New Year’s Night 1893, the M.E. ladies served a chicken supper and ice cream encouraging anyone who “favors their appetite” to attend. In the 1930’s Wager’s Ice Cream, Helderberg Creamery’s Ho-Maid Ice Cream and Fro-Joy Ice Cream were all popular brands.
Getting back to the present day and delicious soft serve, Bethlehem boasts several establishments. Ross’s over on New Scotland Road has been in existence as early as 1954 when Ross’ Picnic Stand advertised in the Spotlight. In the late 50s and 60s it was known as Ross’ Road Stand. The website for Jim’s Tastee Freez on Delaware Avenue says it started out in 1963 as Bill’s Tastee Freez and became Jim’s in 1980. Intriguingly, there is an ad in the 1954 Tri-Village Directory for “Tastee Freez – America’s Soft Ice Cream, Delaware & Grant, Elsmere 9-3912.” That is the same location and telephone number for Jim’s. (By the way, Tastee Freez the brand got its start in 1950 when Leo Moranz invented a new soft-serve pump and freezer. He partnered with marketer Harry Axene in a system where franchisees could use the name Taste Freez in exchange for renting the equipment.) Over at Jericho Drive In on 9W, Twist Ice Cream Shoppe opened in 2007.
When I moved here in 1995, we were urged to go over to Houghtaling’s Market in Feura Bush for soft serve ice cream. While not in Bethlehem, it is just over the town line, now serving under the Mauro’s Menu name. There are of course many other summer time ice cream stands in our area. What is your favorite place?
Be sure to stop by the Bethlehem Historical Association’s Cedar Hill Schoolhouse for their annual Ice Cream Social – a traditional that has been going on for at least 25 years. The date is Sunday, June 9 from 1 to 4 P.M. The location is 1003 River Road, Selkirk. Enjoy free ice cream courtesy of Stewart’s Shops and the latest local history exhibits.
A vintage view of Jim’s Tastee Freez courtesy of their website.
This tin ice cream scoop with its heart shaped finial is found in the collection of the
Bethlehem Historical Association.
It helped inspire this article.
|This undated photo of Ross’s Ice Cream and Hamburger probably dates to the 1970s.|